Any dark areas you'd like lighted as you enter them at night?
Want your bathroom heated for a while before your morning shower?
Going away on vacation for a few weeks and prefer your house to look lived-in?
Want a smarter house but don't want to knock down walls, re-wire it, and spend $10,000+ ?
The answer may be X10 technology. X10 (USA) Inc. builds devices which utilize existing 120v 60hz house current to send and receive signals which can be used to automate many of the routine functions necessary around your house today. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to install and maintain these devices, and they can be purchased for as little as $15 or $20 each - sometimes less.
In 1992 I wrote a PowerBasic program to control our house, via a TW-523 power line interface. My wife, Pat, named it H.A.P. - Home Automation Program. For the first year or so, it ran on a 10mhz 286 PC we had outgrown and had no other use for. In 2010 I rewrote the program using Visual Basic, making it much smarter and more capable. It now uses an Insteon 2413U PLM (Power Line Modem) to send and receive X10 commands plus a USBDIO32 for contact closures. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on a much more powerful server running Windows. It runs autonomously, making our lives simpler and safer. Often, 3-4 weeks or more go by without a program restart or system boot. It has its own UPS backup and can survive power outages, logging to a history file on disk when the power fails and when it is restored. Our 25,000 watt propane-fueled generator starts automatically within 30 seconds after a power failure. A 200-amp automatic transfer switch will recognize when the utility power is restored and stable, and then it automatically switches the house back over to PG&E and shuts down the generator.
In addition to turning inside lights on near dusk and turning heaters on in the bathrooms an hour before our usual wake-up time, HAP also monitors ~20 motion detectors outside and inside the house. It "talks" to us through ceiling speakers throughout the house. When deer arrive to eat our plants, or wild pigs start tearing up our yard looking for grubs, or people or vehicles get near the house, HAP announces not only their presence, but their approximate location. We hear announcements - in my digitally-recorded voice - such as "Motion detected ...." and the location: north, southeast, west side of deck, near front door, etc. It's very hard for anything larger than a rabbit to get near our house unannounced. HAP has alerted us to the arrival of squirrels, rabbits, dogs, cats, raccoons and coyotes. After sunset, HAP also turns on outside lights in the appropriate area and even activates an electronic 'dog' that barks like a territorial 70-pounder.
When motion occurs inside or outside the house, HAP is aware of it within 1/5 of a second and immediately starts to decide what to do about it, based on the logic in a text format control file. The control data is a "language" I created. It uses "If/Then/And/Or" type logic.
We can press a button on a remote controller and HAP will play one of 32 or so playlists, filling the house with music. If it needs to announce motion outside, the verbal message blends in with the music but louder, so we're sure to hear it.
Near sunset, HAP also uses our latitude and longitude to calculate when the sun will rise and set each day. Five minutes before sunset, we hear "Sunset in 5 minutes". And as it's setting, we hear "The sun is setting". We hate to miss good sunsets.
It hasn't happened in 35 years, but if someone were to break into our house when we're not at home, HAP would send text messages to both our phones, informing us which rooms the intruder is searching. Then we can check the cameras throughout the house on our phones or tablets and see who needs to go to jail.
(In case someone reading this thinks about using this information to plan a break-in, I should point out that we have other layers of security I won't describe here.)
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